Being a single mother is a brutal plot twist

Over the weekend I watched the movie American Woman.  The heroine (Deb) is a single woman in her early thirties who lives with her teenage daughter across the street from what’s left of her family in a working class town in Pennsylvania.  Deb has a job in some kind of big box store, smokes, drinks and has affairs with married men. She is a mess and her daughter, who’s just had a baby boy out of wedlock, seems to be following in her footsteps.

Deb is not a bad mother.  She’s just a pretty girl who got pregnant at sixteen and now grabs whatever fun she can regardless of consequences. Are there opportunities available to her that she’s not taking advantage of?  We really don’t know.  We only see her family becoming increasingly aggravated with her behavior.  Until … enter the cruel plot twist. 

The movie skips over a period of years to show Deb’s painful crawl toward a more socially acceptable lifestyle.  Finally, another cruel plot twist (this one expected) and she has enough self-confidence to leave town with her then teenage grandson.

I grew up in a gambling town. Many of my friends had single, working class mothers. Those with good legs worked as cocktail waitresses (better tips), those who were good at math were dealers, and those with no particular skills worked as maids or waitresses.  The casinos were open twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and holidays which gave them more flexibility in their working hours.  Men were generally bad news and the smart women preferred to go it alone depending on neighbors, who also worked at the clubs, for childcare help.

Mapes Hotel/Casino where my mom worked.

I guess there is a plus side to living in a gambling town.  But don’t make me say it twice. 

Here’s what bothered me about American Woman.  Being a single mother at any age is a brutal plot twist but being a teenage single mother is especially brutal. You don’t need to throw in the loss of a child to make their transformation acceptable to your audiences. 

Here’s the point that should have been made and wasn’t: American women who find themselves in Deb’s situation (for whatever reason) get no help from the government and are often blamed for the situation they are in.  I didn’t become a single mother until I was in my late thirties and had a college education.  Unless you have strong family support, it’s a brutal plot twist.


Gads – sounds like a stumping speech for Elizabeth Warren, doesn’t it?  It isn’t.  I’m still undecided.  But she does have a point. 

26 thoughts on “Being a single mother is a brutal plot twist

  1. I’ve not heard of this movie but it got you thinking which is a great thing. Being a single mother is a challenge I don’t know firsthand, but is one that seems to bring out the naysayers who are all about the blame game. I hope I live long enough to see our society get it together and support women who become single mothers, like it’s a normal/acceptable way to live. Because it is.

    1. The movie wasn’t widely distributed – I think because it’s hard to know what the producers meant to say. I was confused. But I do know that single mothers are often blamed for their predicament. So many women think it can never happen to them and that the woman must have done something.

  2. That’s the situation my mom found herself in when my dad died. Both immigrants, neither with an education beyond 8th grade. The government didn’t help a bit. All of us kids had to work and help save the house. But, as bad as that was, it really united us at a time that the family was in dire straits. Those struggles formed a bond that will continue forever.

    1. Sounds like you had a great family. Your mother was a widow which is a little different from being a single mother by choice. Divorced mothers of small children face a lot of skepticism – trust me, I’ve been there. As I said to Allie – too many women believe it can never happen to them. Only women who don’t take care of their man get divorced.

  3. Warren does make sense, Jan. I was a single mom in my late 20s with no college. But I got a Pell grant—qualified because I was officially on the poverty line, despite working more than full time. It’s a rough road.

    1. She does. I lived far from family (not that they would have been a big help) and finding good childcare was a constant worry. We lived in a neighborhood of mostly intact families and I’ll never forget their change in attitude towards us. There’s definitely a stereotype of the divorcee going after everyone’s husband. Glad you survived!

      1. My mom said “I’m not watching the kids!” Right after I told her we were splitting. I had not even thought of asking her. So right, family does not always pitch in with support.

  4. Being a parent is hard being a single parent is even harder. I was a mum at 19, but I was married, I had been married since 17 it was so hard especially that I was far from home and only had the Avant support of strangers who became friends. My husband was away most of the time so I was almost a single mum. But I did have a husband all be it one who was mostly working away.
    I think single mums should get support, single dads too. I have not heard of this film but it’s peaked my interest, as has your story too.,💜

    1. When I was married the first time, that was one of the issues – my husband was gone all the time (and up to no good unfortunately). Glad everything seems to have worked out for you! My problem with the plot of the movie was it seemed to imply two things: Deb brought all her problems on herself and she needed to be punished in order to turn her life around. To me that showed a lack of sensitivity for what it’s actually like to be a single mother.

      1. I can see that, no one really asks for the problems life brings them especially single parents, life is cruel, I doubt anyone goes in search of problems. Single parents need help not redemption.💜💜💜

  5. Amen! Americans need to begin valuing children and mothers, single, married, whatever. They need our financial, emotional, and physical support. Period!

  6. You bring up a problem that has not “matter-ed” yet to the crowds, maybe because it is so rampant? Much prejudice in this area, of people who cannot think beyond the “mistake,” like they never made any!! In some cases it is because of the death of a husband, or it is because he is the one who left:( Any mother of teens deserves and needs support!

    1. I think in real-life (as opposed to the movie), single moms get less blame today for their predicament than they used to. And, as you point out, that’s because it’s more common.

  7. Single parenting is nearly unfathomable. Just doing the work alone, making decisions alone is hard (I say from deployment days) but to make all the money, to fulfill every single financial need alone? My single mom friends are the strongest women I know, trial by fire. The real testament to their strength is their adult children. Good group. Strong bonds. Makes me tear up.
    Anyway, interesting topic. Seems like a harsh light they threw on Deb.

    1. Exactly what I thought. The producers suggested that she needed to be punished with the loss of a child in order for her to see the light and crawl out of poverty and dependence on men. I was like “whhhhat?”

  8. Well, I won’t watch that movie!
    I live in Canada. There are programs (ie. free daycare) and financial support for single moms.
    We also have 15 weeks pregnancy leave, 1 year maternity & paternity leave. It is unpaid by the employer, but the government pays a support that is akin to unemployment benefits.
    In almost all cases, the employer must give the job back when leave is over.

    1. I was far from perfect and I anguish over the many mistakes I made. You ache inside because you’re unable to give to your child what other children have. It’s been many years but I still feel the guilt.

  9. Another (once upon a time, when my boys were young and so was I) single mom here. My mother was a teen mom and to this day says “I never had a childhood.” She was not a good mom. But it’s hard and nobody gives you a break.

    1. A lot of people for whatever reason really didn’t have a childhood. It certainly isn’t their children’s fault. The feeling I got from the movie was that the writers/producers didn’t really know what they felt about imperfect single mothers so their message was incoherent (at least to me).

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